Vidya Balan was filmmaker Srijit Mukherji’s first choice for Rajkahini. Yes, you heard that right! The National Award-winning filmmaker, who is adapting his own Bengali film in Hindi, with Vidya in the lead, admits that Rajkahini was originally meant to be a bilingual and he was looking forward to casting Vidya as the lead in both versions.
Rajkahini, which released in Kolkata during Durga Puja in 2015, had actress Rituparna Sengupta in the lead.
“Originally, Rajkahini was written to be a bilingual and I was supposed to cast Vidya Balan to play the role in both the films. Only after I didn’t get her dates and things didn’t work out, I thought of doing the Bengali film and approached Rituparna (Sengupta, who played the protagonist, a fierce madam of a brothel). If you watch Rajkahini you will notice that the character of Begum Jaan has a north Indian flavour. Also, Rituparna’s Bengali was broken, because initially I wanted to make a bilingual film,” says Mukherji, who is shooting for his debut Bollywood film in Patjor, a village in Jharkhand.
Mukherji is all praise for Vidya. “There’s something about Vidya’s face, voice and body language. Frankly, if you think of such powerful roles, you can only think of Vidya or Rani Mukherji. Vidya was my first choice. I can’t think of other actors who can pull off this character,” he says.
Vidya, who is known as a powerhouse performer, has already watched the Bengali film even before she was approached to play the lead in the Hindi version. “I watched Rajkahini. It is a powerful film. My role personifies feminine power in various aspects whether its sensuality, female wroth or compassion,” says the Kahaani actress.
Though it’s a remake of his own film, Mukherji says he is treating the Bollywood film as a new entity. He is also prepared for comparisons and criticisms that he knows will follow once the film releases. “Comparisons are inevitable. Some of the cast members have watched the original and some haven’t. Sanjay Leela Bhansali asked me how am I remaking my own film? He told me that he wouldn’t be able to remake Bajirao Mastani again. So, I am treating this film as a new one,” he says.
Rajkahini, which starred Rituparna Sengupta, Jisshu Sengupta, Saswata Chatterjee, Parno Mittra, Abir Chatterjee and others, revolved around 11 women in a brothel during the Partition of Bengal. To reach out to a wider audience, Mukherji has shifted the base to Punjab in the Hindi version. “The plot points, characters, twists remain the same. But the language, milieu, costume and the nature of the partition have been changed. There are many scenes which were not there in the Bengali version. This film concentrates on the brothel and importance has been given to the women characters and their interpersonal relationships. It’s more humane than Rajkahini,” says the director.
For Vidya, who is always thirsty for meaty roles, the character is challenging. She, however, confesses that the film is not really a remake. “We are treating it as a new film. I have never been part of a historical film and though it’s a fictionalised account, I am enjoying playing a madam of a brothel. I have heard many good things about Srijit from others and I have also seen his previous works. It’s lovely working with him,” says the Ishqiya actress.
In the meantime, the filmmaker admits that the weather is playing spoilsport and the unit is facing a lot of challenges while shooting the film in Patjor. A mammoth 9,000 square feet set, resembling a brothel, has been erected at the same location where the Bengali film was shot. Apart from the weather, the tight budget is also another challenge for the filmmaker. According to Srijit, he has always faced budget constraints and this time too, it’s no different.
“We are facing bipolar schizophrenic weather. One moment it’s raining and the next moment, the sun is shining bright. Seven days into building the set, it was demolished by a huge thunder storm. But we have planned the schedule well. We are working long hours on days when the weather is holding. Also, we need to shoot with a tight budget. The budget is slightly higher than the Bengali film. Shooting the film is almost like fighting a war,” says the filmmaker.
The Nirbaak and 22 e Srabon director says that he was asked to remake his Bengali film Hemlock Society (2012), starring Parambrata Chatterjee and Koel Mullick in Hindi too. But the producers in Mumbai asked him to change the ending, which he didn’t agree too. “As long as I can tell my stories in my own way, I am ready to work in Bollywood. I cannot compromise. There has been no interference from Mahesh Bhatt or Mukesh Bhatt. I have been given a free hand and hence I am enjoying making the film,” he signs off.
The Bollywood film also stars Naseeruddin Shah, Gauhar Khan, Pallavi Sharda, Ila Arun, Mishti, Poonam Rajput, Rajit Kapoor, Vivek Mushran, Rajesh Sharma, Pitobash and Ashish Vidyarthi among others.